Friday, June 22, 2012

Hidden London - London's Secret Gardens

For one special June weekend every year, London's private garden squares are opened up to the public. With 1 ticket you get a pass into 208 gardens. There's a comprehensive website (see below) with details of what's where so that you can plan your route which would be essential in such a huge, sprawling city. In my central West area of Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill we have the largest concentration of private, communal gardens. I'm fortunate enough to have a key to one of the very finest.

Last weekend was Edwardes Square's 200th birthday. We went to an afternoon tea:

and picked up our copy of a new book detailing the garden's history. I knew the artistic and literary connections were plentiful, but was staggered to discover quite how many of the greats have passed this way. There's a particularly strong children's literature thread. Not only with the most popular children's book series ever - via our immediate, publicity sensitive, neighbour who's never there - but also Peter Pan (George du Maurier, Daphne's grandad, lived at No. 12) and Alice In Wonderland. George du Maurier's daughter Sylvia was the mother of the children befriended in the park by J M Barrie: Jack, George, Nicholas, Peter and - Michael. Later, in the same house, lived fantasy and fairy story author George MacDonald mentor of C S Lewis, Lewis Carroll and hugely admired by Tolkein and Mark Twain amongst many others.
George MacDonald
There's a photo in the book of Lewis Carroll with George, his wife and children in the garden of No. 12. After getting the thumbs up from George's children, Lewis Carroll submitted Alice's Adventures In Wonderland to Macmillan - who lived a few doors away at number 19! Then we had Mrs Inchbald at No. 4, whose play features heavily in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; and this, from Virginia Woolf:

"Lord David's party last night. Half across London to Edwardes Square. Very large, leafy, silent, Georgian, refined."

Pot displays by David, the resident gardener
I will stop there but the stories and connections do go on, and on. Just two more. William Pepys, a founding member of the Royal Society used to burn diamonds in the garden with his friend William Allen. It was they who proved that diamonds were pure carbon. And then James Leigh Hunt, visited by just about everybody - Byron, Shelley... I can't walk there now without a rush of all this new information bubbling up.

David's stupendous lawn-mowing on the croquet lawn - OMG could this have been THE Alice In Wonderland croquet lawn??

I do hope to take a step back from the digital world this summer. I want to sit on that bench with my writing pad and some George MacDonald on my Kindle.   

His children's fairy stories are out of copyright and available to download for free at the Gutenberg Project.  Then I'll get back to my half-completed children's fantasy perhaps! If we ever get a summer.  

If an English garden steeped in history is your thing and you'd like to plan a visit next year, all details of London Garden Squares Open Weekend are here. The Edwardes Square book itself is a beautiful thing as you can see from its own website here. I think there are a few copies still going. 

London's Hidden Jewel
The Story Of A Garden Square
c. The Edwardes Square History Group 2012

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